Mark Leftly: It's vital we have a plan for when this mess ends

Outlook Of course, the major reason why many shops are struggling is that we all have to be much more discerning over our spending. Certainly, I've become more of a beer snob in recent years, which I hope in no small measure contributed to Heineken's poor full-year results in Europe.

What worries me more and more is society's breaking point. The Bank of England's Governor Sir Mervyn King's warning that we face another three years of huge economic woe breaks the soul. No matter how much debt we cut, how much we save, how much we hope, all of us seem to continually have to adjust to a world that gets financially tougher one year to the next.

There is a limit, and social unrest is almost inevitable. I remember my parents' generation struggling through the 1980s, unemployment everywhere – and we didn't have it that bad, given that I hark from a middle-class area on the South Coast. The question that really needs answering is: have we actually come up with a proper plan to get people back to work when the economy improves, whenever that may be?

Crime and Punishment's author Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said that "the degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons". The degree of civilisation in Britain should not be judged by how we deal with the problems we face right now, but how we restore the finances and living arrangements of people struggling even when we get out of this mess, hopefully much sooner than three years from now.

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